District heating in apartments and flats with Kensa's Shoebox heat pump

Despite the current dip in oil prices helping to ease the pressure on heating bills a little, the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme continues to drive interest in renewable district heating, commonly now referred to as ‘heat networks’.  However, with the inherent drawbacks and inefficiencies of conventional “central plant” district heating systems, and biomass RHI tariffs now starting to degress, an innovative alternative approach using ground source heat pumps and shared ground loop arrays is providing a more compelling solution for landlords and housing developers looking to heat multiple buildings, especially those in rural, off gas grid areas.

In addition, many landlords are beginning to understand the implications of the Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations.  These effectively mean that any landlord supplying heat through a communal or district heating system becomes a “heat supplier” and is therefore responsible for compliance with the new regulations, including any existing district heating installations.  In a nutshell, landlords are now required to fit individual metering and control systems to each property and to provide each occupier with an individual bill, at least once per year.  Obviously, this is likely to impose a hefty compliance and administration burden on many landlords with central plant communal or district heating systems, which is mandatory and may impose criminal sanctions for non-compliance.

Thankfully there is an alternative. Using Kensa’s innovative shared ground loop array approach, an individual ground source heat pump is installed in each dwelling, giving each occupier complete control over their own heating and hot water system and responsibility for their own bill. This unique system architecture inherently avoids landlords from having to comply with the Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations.

Kensa’s shared ground loop array system sees multiple heat pumps linked to a communal ground array, which enables the system to qualify as district heating under the Renewable Heat Incentive, generating 20 years of income under the Non Domestic RHI stream. Significantly for the residential sector, the Non Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) – a Government scheme which allows landlords to generate a long term income through the production of renewable heat – covers district heating installations, both for new build and existing buildings.

Each property is furnished with its own ground source heat pump, so there is no “central” heat generation (the “district” is formed simply by the communal ground array), so each resident is responsible for their own bill and there is therefore no requirement for the landlord to either apportion energy bills between residents or indeed meter heat losses through district distribution pipework.  It should be noted that to comply with the requirements of the non-domestic RHI, each property will still require heat and power meters to be fitted, however these are purely for the purposes of claiming the RHI payments and are not necessary for billing, as the system architecture inherently means the requirements for compliance to the Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations are negated.

Crucially, unlike district biomass or other central plant boiler systems, there is also no need for a plant room, no heat losses through the district distribution pipework and of course there is no need for fuel storage and logistical management of fuel deliveries; or expensive regular maintenance to enable the system to continue to operate efficiently.

And importantly for the retro-fit sector, “district ground source systems” are also recognised as a measure able to attract ECO funding, so particularly where electric heating or oil are being displaced, landlords can benefit from an attractive capital subsidy in addition to the long term RHI payments.

The solution is also completely scalable in that a district heating system may be as small as two dwellings – perhaps a pair of semi-detached houses – sharing a common borehole, or extend to a block of flats or sheltered accommodation scheme.

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